Published on 26 Jun 2012 Sections

Refugees ‘should go back to Burma’

Refugees fleeing for their lives from persecution and violence in Burma will continue to be turned away from Bangladesh to protect diplomatic relations, a Bangladeshi diplomat tells Channel 4 News.

Dr Mohammad Sayeedur Rahman Khan, Bangladesh’s high commissioner to the UK, said that although he sympathised with the plight of the Rohingya refugees fleeing weeks of ethnic violence in north west Burma, they would continue to be sent back regardless.

On Monday, Channel 4 News revealed dramatic footage of dozens of refugees wailing uncontrollably as they were being sent back after reaching Bangladeshi shores.

One man being dragged back onto a boat after reaching the shore was heard saying “they’ll kill me”. The coastguard sending him back replied: “Allah will save you. Now go back.”

Others who had managed to get inside the country described how their children and relatives had been burned alive in the violence sweeping through the Rakhine state.

“It’s an unfortunate incident that’s taken place in Bangladesh and the Rakhine state of Myanmar (Burma),” Mr Khan said. “Bangladesh expresses all its sympathy to those people being displaced from their own country.”

But he added: “It’s not possible on the part of the government of Bangladesh to accept further Rohingyas. Bangladesh is trying to improve its relationship with Myanmar. Myanmar is moving towards democracy, and we appreciate that.

“We want to improve our relationship with them further. We are in the process of repatriating 30,000 registered Rohingya. We believe we have done the right thing, because at the end, it’s going to solve the problem instead of keeping it alive.”

Watch the Channel 4 News report on Rohingya refugees fleeting ethnic violence in Burma

The United Nations estimates that around 90,000 people have been displaced by the recent violence in the Rakhine state. Ethnic Buddhists and the Muslim Rohingya blame each other for it.

The refugees fleeing Burma, who have not been identified for their protection, told Channel 4 News that helicopters, believed to be Burmese, had fired on boats carrying refugees which were behind theirs, causing them to burst into flames. The claims were denied by the Burmese authorities.

Mr Khan conceded that the Rakhine state is facing a crisis, but denied that many were refugees fleeing persecution, saying many were also economic migrants.

He added: “Bangladesh has its own problems. So we have to look at the greater interest of the country as well.

“We already have 400,000 to 500,000 Rohingyas. The government of Bangladesh has given law-enforcing authorities [orders] to check if there are elderly people or children or sick people, or those who need treatment, and these things have been provided by the government of Bangladesh.”

Mr Khan also claimed that “many, many Rohingyas are creating many problems. Social, environmental.” He said: “They have been linked with militant activities, terrorist activities. They’re cutting down the forest and settling down there. There are many cases of crimes, and most of these are committed by Rohingyas.”

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